Efforts to map the ancestral land of five ethnic Bunong communities that have long sought collective property titles in Mondolkiri province’s Pech Chreada district will finally begin later this month, with funding for the project coming from the U.N., officials said on Thursday.
“We are working in collaboration with the U.N. human rights…program to help with the communal titling project in Bosra commune,” said Em Sopheak, provincial coordinator for the Community Legal Education Center, which will cooperate with land management officials and local authorities to demarcate and measure the land using GPS technology.
“The U.N. has already approved the budget for the new mapping, which will begin by the end of February or early next month,” Mr. Sopheak added.
James Heenan, representative for the U.N. human rights office in Cambodia, confirmed that the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will be funding the project. “OHCHR is contributing costs for mapping of land for [the] five villages,” Mr. Heenan said in an email.
“Some villages in Bosra previously applied for communal land title[s] but they lacked the detailed mapping of the land, so will reapply with the appropriate documentation following the detailed mapping process,” he said, declining to disclose the cost of the land survey.
Though Bosra’s roughly 1,000 Bunong families applied for communal land titles—which are designed to protect the land of the country’s ethnic minorities from outside development—more than a year ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s land-titling scheme, announced in June, sewed divisions in the community.
While some villagers opted to apply for private land titles, others refused to have their land measured, fearing that they would lose their chance at receiving a communal title.
“There has been a lot of confusion in the last few months,” said Prak Neth, a Bosra villager. “But now, most of us, we understand that we cannot take both, so that’s why we are unified,” Mr. Neth said.
“We saw that we would be at a big loss if we took the private title…we tried very quickly to unify,” he added.
Sek Sophorn, national project coordinator for the International Labor Organization, said on Thursday that the mapping project would inflate this sense of solidarity. “It’s very important to be able to defend their claim [to the land],” Mr. Sophorn said.
But Bill Herod, a longtime resident of Mondolkiri and adviser to local NGO The Bunong Place, said the community—which for years has feuded with various rubber and timber companies encroaching on their land—should not celebrate too soon.
“I’m afraid that they have been jerked around so much, that some will be skeptical about the value of that [the mapping],” Mr. Herod said.
“If somebody finds oil or gold or bauxite on that land, it will be simply taken away. I think everybody knows that,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ben Woods)
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